Recording a song looks like a relatively simple task. However, when you dive into it, you begin to realize that it’s not as easy as it seems.
It requires a certain level of expertise, experience, and experimentation to get the best possible recording you can.
While having top of the line equipment helps, it’s not the only requirement to make a great song. You can create a high-quality song with some relatively essential equipment and the right expertise.
In this article, we’ll guide you through the recording process so that you can make the best use of the resources at your disposal to record an epic song.
Step 1: Preparation before recording
Before you jump straight into recording, you need to do some preparation to ensure that the recording process is as smooth as possible. Below are some of the things to take into consideration before recording your song.
Recording at home vs. Recording in a professional studio
It’s advisable to make a plan on how you’ll record your song to make the process as seamless as possible. The first decision to make is whether you’ll record at home or in a professional studio.
If you decide to record at a professional studio then you don’t have to worry about the technical details since the studio engineer will take care of the technicalities. But if you choose to record at home you’ll have to make a more hands-on approach.
What tools/resources do you need to record a song?
There is a barrier to entry into recording, but it’s relatively affordable these days.
Typically you need the following tools to record your song:
- A reliable laptop or desktop computer.
- A good microphone – It can be a condenser or a good quality dynamic mic such as a Shure SM58.
- A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) – Software that allows you record, edit, and mix your recording.
- An audio interface.
- A pair of studio speakers or headphones.
Other pre-production tips
· If you’re planning on recording a band you may need more equipment than what is listed above.
For example, if you have to capture six instruments simultaneously you may need to buy, hire or borrow an audio interface which can handle that many inputs at once.
· If you’re going to use a beat created on a computer you should have it ready beforehand.
· It’s always a good idea to get plenty of practice before you record your song. Memorize your lyrics and parts beforehand so that when it’s time to record you’re able to perform it confidently.
Step 2: Recording your song
Once you’ve made your preps, it’s time to begin the process of recording your song. This stage has to be done with great care as a poor recording will affect the other stages.
Creating a backing track
Unless you’re recording acapella music, you’ll probably need a backing beat of some sort.
If you already have the beat before recording then this stage is not necessary. You just have to synchronize your backing beat to the tempo of the project in your music production software of choice then move on to recording your vocals and other instruments.
If you don’t have a backing track, you can start by adding a metronome to your project or a basic drum loop to give yourself a feel for the tempo when recording your vocals. It is especially true for hip-hop and electronic music.
Mic Placement & gain staging
Before you get into a full-on performance, you need to ensure that the sound you’re going to record is not too quiet, too loud or distorting. You can control this by placing your mic further or closer away from the sound source as well as adjust the gain on your audio interface.
Placing the mic further from or closer to certain parts of the source can dramatically affect what you capture. For instance, placing a mic close to a guitar neck will, capture more of the finger and fret noises than setting it closer to the body.
Take time to experiment with each instrument and artist to gain stage properly as this is one of the single most important factors that will affect your track.
You may want to add some additional production to your instrumental such as a live guitar for instance. Recording some instruments can be done in two ways:
- Using a line input.
Some guitars, bass guitars, etc. have this option, but the disadvantage is that you can’t capture some nuances.
- Using a microphone.
This captures the nuances but can introduce external noise if the setup is not optimal.
Make sure you record your backing beat so that the instrument is on tempo.
Drums are probably the most challenging thing to record since they have so many components. You can use a single mic to record the entire kit in one go or use multiple mics to record the individual sounds.
Vocals are the heart and soul of most songs as they carry the message. So they have to be clear and present in your song.
If you are lucky enough to have more than one mic, you can try to record your leads with both and select the one that has the best sound.
If you want to capture more bass, you should point the mic downward towards the chest.
You should use a pop filter to eliminate popping sounds often caused by pronouncing the letter “B,” “T” and other sounds that produce massive movement of air.
“S” and “T” sounds can also make your vocals sound harsh. One way of reducing this is to face the mic slightly away from the vocalist’s mouth.
If multiple vocalists are handling backing vocals, you could either opt to record them, in one go via different mics, in one go on a shared mic or in multiple takes with one part vocal part being done at a time, e.g., soprano first, then tenor, etc.
Step 3: Mixing your song
The raw recording by itself will probably not sound professional. To make it shine you need to mix the track. Mixing is the process of balancing the sounds in your song so that each element plays its intended part.
Cleaning up the recorded tracks
Once you’re done with the recording, it’s essential to clean up your tracks by removing any unnecessary parts and noise such as coughing sounds, etc. If these parts are not removed, they may fill up your track with, unpleasant noise and make it sound unprofessional.
Comping is whereby you take various recorded parts of each instrument/vocal and then put together only the best pieces. Try and make parts which sound coherent together so that it’s not evident that you used multiple takes.
Sibilance may creep into your recording and it’s essential to reduce it as much as possible without taking away from the performance.
You can do this manually by searching for the problem areas with loud “S” or “T” sounds and then reducing the gain in just that area using automation.
Alternatively, you could use a de-esser plugin such as Spitfish to handle the process for you automatically. All you have to do is dial in the correct settings.
Equalizing your track
If you have various sounds filling the same part of the frequency spectrum you can use EQ to carve out space for each sound. For instance, the kick drum and bass guitar often work within the same frequency range. EQing these can enable both to cut through the mix without clashing.
Once your track is nice and clean, you can start leveling the faders to get a right mix. Make sure the most important sounds such as the vocals are beautiful and audible.
You can use fader automation to bring instruments up and down in the mix at specific intervals. E.g., during a guitar solo, you may want to automate the fader to increase the guitar again so that it’s more prominent in the mix.
Panning your tracks
Panning can also help create the illusion of space in your mix. For instance, you can pan the drums so that some elements play mostly on the left side and others on the right. This can add some excitement to the song.
Compression helps to keep the dynamic range of each sound in control. This can help to make each instrument audible. If it’s added on the master bus (which should be done at the mastering stage), it can help to bring up the volume of the track as a whole.
Adding reverb and delay
Reverb and delay can help make your mix sound more spacious and polished. Use these sparingly though because overuse can result in a muddy, crowded and amateurish sounding mix.
Reverb, in particular, can be used to send some elements further back in the mix so that they’re not in your face.
Step 4: Mastering your song
Once your song has been mixed and things sound sweet and balanced you may want to master the song so that it sounds nice and loud. Mastering is quite challenging and requires patience and expertise. But with enough practice, you can master it (pun intended). Before mastering, you need to render your song to a single WAV file.
Maximizing your song
Maximizing is the stage where you get your song to sound as loud as possible. This is done via the use of a particular mastering compressor known as a maximizer. The goal is to make the song as loud as possible without introducing distortion or losing too much of its dynamic range.
Equalizing and your song
You also need to EQ the song further to ensure that the frequencies are well-balanced. Special mastering equalizers are often the best tools for this since they’re customized for this job.
Widening your song’s stereo field
If you feel your song could use more of a stereo effect, then you can widen the stereo field using a stereo widener plugin. Take note that if all the elements in your song were not initially panned then trying to enhance a non-existent stereo field may not do much good.
Once you’re done mastering the song you have to render it to an MP3 or another file type that can be played back on an ordinary consumer device.
Step 5: Releasing & promoting your song
Once you’ve gone through the rigorous but enjoyable process of recording, mixing and mastering your song you can finally release it to the world.
Publishing your song
Alternatively, you could use your website to sell your track. Another method is to print physical copies onto CDs or pen drives and sell those to people.
Promoting your song
For people to know you have a song you need to tell them about it. Social media is one of the most popular ways to notify people. Planning and executing an intensive social media campaign can go a long way towards promoting your song.
Recording a song can seem like a daunting task, but it can also be rewarding to create something from nothing. You should try your best to refine your song at every stage so that the result is as good as you can make it and don’t forget to have fun in the process.